Type design and how typography can define a location (1/2)

Module 2. Brief 1. Week 1.

My first Brief for the Histories and Futures module will be aiding me in telling a story relating to a specific aspect of practice and cultural or global difference. I will be working on two projects during this time that will allow me to question the role graphic design plays in society. The first will give me the opportunity to look at letterforms in my area, the second will be analysing the effectiveness of data.

This week I am focusing on the typography project that I will be working on both this week and next week. I will be analysing the typography used in my area that highlight its social, political, or historical standpoint. I will collect this data using varied mediums, photography, sketches, notes, and documents. 

Once I have collected my typography I will then have to distil this into categories where I can easily analyse my results. Finally allowing me to produce 5 contemporary and historical examples that best illustrate my area. Alongside this I will write a short detailed explanation on the effect typography has on the culture and other aspects of the town. This should be in lamen description so non-creatives can grasp these theories.


Lecture – History Revealed

Typography illustrates identity. They are tools to express a feeling, an atmosphere, a vibe. Type surrounds us in all aspects and allows us to recognise brands and places with the shape of the text. 

In this lecture, we hear about the use of type in signage throughout the centuries. The ghosting effect that letterforms have on sides of buildings. This method of communication and marketing has left intriguing marks on buildings still to this day. They tell us about the history of not only that architecture but that town or city. It tells us about the language that is used, what type of class it was aimed for, it tells us about the people who lived there. 

Modern typography does the same. You can see the target audience of a type not in branding but in a locations type form through signage among other mediums. You can see the history of a location by finding archived materials or hidden type in public locations that has been abandoned or missed over years of development and renovation. Seeing this comparison of development can tell us a lot about a locations personal story.  

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Marketing was once printed on bricks which was developed to pasted print and now digital advertisement. These type forms will slowly fade with time, but how the future of marketing will look on today’s history will be extremely different from the way we look back on the past today.

One of the biggest difference from letterforms in the past compared to now is the comparison of print and digital. Letterpress printed text compared to digitally designed typefaces have allowed us to produce revolutionary and wider range designs.

We look at the London Underground map through the years which gives us a clear depiction of how design and type has developed through the years. TFL’s Johnson typeface that has recently been updated to the new #Johnson100 by Monotype.


How can typography help define the identity of a location?

We can recognise a brand by typeface, I agree that in a similar way you can recognise the location of type by its form. Through historical representation and illustration connected the location’s heritage we can connect the two together. 


When collecting my typography around my area I want to try varying the exact locations and see how it may vary. I will also be collecting the exact locations so I can add this data to the GeoType Wall.

Explore and Collect.

I will collect at least 10 historical and contemporary sources of typography in my area. During this exploration, I want to make sure I collect both day and night shoots, as I may see things that I could’ve missed. I also want to find typography that isn’t all at eye level and at street view. I will be collecting imagery, documentation, notes and sketches. These will then be narrowed down to 5 examples that best reflect my areas personality. I want to get a range of different letterforms so I will try my best to collect a wide range of type.


How well does the type collected represent the area it was collected from? Each letterform needs its own 100-word description to best describe its personality and what it says. What is it used for? How and when could it be reused for? How does it make you feel? How does it relate to the area it’s in? What does it say about its area it was collected from?


(No) Parking. The tranquil village town that is Guildford is stuck in the juxtaposition of the aged historical type that illustrates the towns deep history and the postmodern which sees the city centre shopping culture expressed through jarring type such as this one buried between the two. This painted letterform that sits on a wall alongside a small street just off the hustle and bustle of the town centre lacks major footfall. When noticing this type that has the essence of graffiti from its humourous new meaning after the fading of the first two letters, I couldn’t help but find this type one that sums up the abandoned view of Guildford.


Keep Off The Grass. Guildford Castle grounds are a touch of quiet and a reminder of the history of this city centre town. However, even within this sacred area of untouched history, we find postmodern type that has aged and weathered even after a few years. This metallic font that has such contrast with the dirt and rust wearing away around it stands out like a sore thumb. For me, this type represents the ageing of the town, the attempt and lack of care for such a historically rich and green town. 


Guildford Library. The Guildford Library stands out along the high street with its aggressive council style type that emerges from what looks like a concrete prison along the high street. The lack of modern renovation throughout the town leaves a lot to be desired. The combination of attractive historic type and cheap attempt of modern improvement has left the town looking like it needs a facelift. This letterform really does express this need for more creative and artistic design to be put into its public buildings.


Quakers’ Acre. Throughout Guildford, there are signs dotted around that are made from metal (like most other signs around the town), that tell us about the history of its location. They all have the same design, letterform, and colours. They aren’t too large, they sit on walls at eye height, and subtly grab your attention by blending in with its surroundings. This closeup of one at Quakers’ Acre shows its age from weathering of these sign. More importantly, we can see the letterform in detail. The serif type attempts to mimic the rich history of the town, having these dotted around in the endeavour of reminding the residents and visitors of this.


Slow Down, Turn Left. This is one of a few ancient relics that remind us of the town that once was. This sign is one I walk past daily but it isn’t preserved or celebrated the way it should be. With the town being so rich in history you would want type such as this defended. It reads “slow down, turn left, halt before, turn right for Guildford, most… Good food..” If you can read the rest I would be intrigued by what it did say, as it speaks about a town that once was. A completely different way of life and time to be alive. A little reminder of the many ways things have changed over the last few hundred years or so. 


Finally, I will then upload my collected letterforms with their descriptions to the GeoType Wall. This will allow us to all share our collections on a map to see how type changes through the location. 

Compiling these five images together in one place has shown to me how much small pieces of a town can tell about its story. Without visiting or knowing about the city, someone reading my captions to my selected letterforms can already begin to understand the life of a resident or someone like me who works here and spends most of my time in this areas. 


This week was a great start to the module of histories and futures. It allowed me to get into the mindset of looking around and asking questions about the town I already know so well. It has made me realise there is so much around us that we are completely unaware of. Opening my eyes to small pieces of design that tell us a story that we subconsciously notice and bringing that into our conscious perspective. 

I am excited to next week continue looking into type and history and what we will be looking at next.

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